OhioGuidestone Workforce 360°, in conjunction with A Second Chance Inc., celebrated the first graduating class of the Getting Ahead While Getting Out program for adjudicated youth in the nation at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility using funding from a Google Impact grant awarded earlier this year.
A New Opportunity
There are countless programs for youth populations in correctional facilities. But Skip Hill, Founder and CEO at A Second Chance Inc. and an ex-convict, never saw one that he knew would make a difference—until he met OhioGuidestone Program Manager Jennifer Hedinger, who introduced him to the Getting Ahead While Getting Out program, which is written based on the Bridges out of Poverty philosophy.
Skip immediately knew that Getting Ahead While Getting Out was different. “Being an ex-con myself, and having participated in programs that were supposed to do what this program actually does do, this is the first time I’ve actually read a program that I thought was going to be not only effectual, but accepting,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a program. It’s another thing to have a program accepted by the people that you want to help.”
Thanks to a Google Grant awarded to OhioGuidestone in 2018, Skip and Rebecca Coiner, OhioGuidestone Community Engagement Specialist, co-facilitated the first-ever youth cohort for Getting Ahead While Getting Out in 2019.
Why It Works
There’s no overstating the importance of the genuine, personal relationships Skip, Rebecca and Jennifer built with the youth in the program. They will be the first to tell you the first class wasn’t attended because the youth thought it would change their lives. It was a chance for snacks and a break from the noisy monotony of their day.
Once the youth came and listened, they realized that this was a classroom where they were understood and supported. It wasn’t about the snacks or the break. For these youth, Getting Ahead While Getting Out became an island of calm amidst a sea of chaos. “They tell me all the time ‘This is our time, and we feel so much better when we leave’,” said Rebecca.
A Fair Chance
For 14 weeks, three times a week, youth ambled into their classroom. The first activity to any class was to go around the room, facilitators and all, and share how they were feeling. As is the universal experience with any teenager, in any environment, sometimes they were frustrated. Bored. Often they’d say, “I’m just here.”
“By the time they left, they were, ‘Pumped. Stoked’. During class, you watch them come together and be so full of life,” said Rebecca. Yet the program wasn’t only social. During class, youth prompted discussions based on their workbooks. They led their activities and were ultimately responsible for teaching each other. They learned about hidden rules, language issues and resources—each
important parts of navigating a world that they’ve never been properly introduced to. It’s a fair chance at lifelong success, once they’re released.
“We’re helping [them] repair, and reshape for what’s next,” said Skip. By introducing youth to possibilities, Skip hopes that they discover their journey to maturity, ultimately helping them function as responsible citizens in their community upon reentry working to reduce recidivism.
A Reason to Have Hope
The success of Getting Ahead While Getting Out isn’t only measured in the number of graduates. It’s in each optional check-in graduates have with Skip and Rebecca. It’s 19-year-old Shawn, who was released shortly after graduation, earning an internship, planning on going back to school and working to do his mother proud each day. It’s the fact that weeks after the program has ended, youth are reaching out to each other and maintaining the team they built.
“I don’t know what it was—the hand of God, or what—that convinced these 12 kids to come, but I hope that the next 12 we receive are as open to receiving what this program has to offer,” said Skip. The future for each graduate is bright, said Jennifer, “Because when they have hope, they can move mountains.”
For more information regarding Getting Ahead While Getting Out, please contact Jennifer Hedinger at Jennifer.Hedinger@OhioGuidestone.org.